This breed of draught horse has played a principal role in heavy haulage in rural, urban and industrial settings. The Clydesdale originated in the Lanarkshire region of Scotland some 300 years ago when Scottish farmers cross-bred native mares with larger, more robust English and Flemmish stallions. The outcome was a more powerful horse, perfectly suited to pulling heavy loads such as carriages and farm equipment.
By the 19th century, the breed had evolved to meet the demands of the harsh Scottish climate. Clydesdales also became useful in the coal mines of England. An increase in popularity in the latter half of the century saw large numbers of Clydesdales being exported to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Early in the 20th century, South America, Italy, Russia and Austria received exports as well. Although some Clydesdale horses served in the First World War, the advent of the tractor and mechanical power rendered draught horses somewhat obsolete. Sharp declines in breeding numbers ensued, and the Clydesdale was categorised as ‘vulnerable' by the Rare Breed Survival Trust in the 1960's.
Through the determination and loyalty of breeders throughout the world, the Clydesdale has experienced a resurgence in recent years. This turnaround may be somewhat attributed to the cross-breeding between the Clydesdale and Shire Breeds.
Today, where tractors are not viable or desired, the Clydesdale may serve in agriculture and forestry. This is becoming an increasingly important role in an age where ‘green' practices are pursued by many businesses. Clydesdales are also seen under saddle in dressage, endurance rides, hunter jumper, trail riding, therapeutic riding and they often compete at agricultural fairs and exhibitions. Cross-bred Clydesdales are particularly successful in equestrian disciplines as hunters, three day and one day eventers and as show jumpers.
Clydesdales are typically between 16 and 18 hands high, and weigh between 1600 to 2200 lbs. Coat colour is commonly bay, brown, chestnut or black, and white markings on the face and legs are characteristic. Other common features include a long, arched neck, a deep chest, a strong, short back and the abundance of feather below the knees.
Although draught horses had been imported to Australia years earlier, it wasn't until the discovery of gold in the 1850's that draught horse breeding gained momentum. Victoria became the heart of the gold-mining industry and superior strains of the Clydesdale breed were introduced to meet new demands. The breed continued to be developed in other states around Australia. Although breeding declined during the post-war period, dedicated breeders were able to revive interest, allowing the breed to flourish once more.
The Commonwealth Clydesdale Horse Society was established in 1918 and continues to collect, verify and preserve the pedigrees of purebred horses throughout Australia. This information is published in annual stud book.